Leftists Knock on the Bedroom Door

Monday, August 19, 2019

Gone, apparently, are the days I could half-jokingly summarize my political philosophy as, "The government should keep its hands out of our pockets and out of our pants."

Uh-oh! (Image by Cristian Newman, via Unsplash, license.)
It's late to retire that joke, I know, with the Republicans no longer even imagining spending cuts. But still, once you read Megan McArdle's piece regarding the idea of changing the legal basis for defining sexual assault, you will have had a rude awakening. A new variety of Puritan is working to bring horror stories about consent forms from college campuses to everyone's bedroom.

Here is McArdle explaining why the idea is a bad one:
[A]s any biologist, or sales manager, can tell you, systems that rely entirely on positive feedback are unstable. They have no natural stopping point, no way of saying "enough." Which is the fundamental problem with affirmative consent: There is no way to be completely sure that consent was sufficiently affirmative. That's why good systems almost always incorporate at least some negative feedback -- and why rape laws have historically relied on "no means no," not "yes means yes."

Affirmative consent's plain unworkability hasn't damaged its appeal in some quarters. California in 2014 and New York in 2015 imposed these rules on state college campuses. On Monday, the American Bar Association's House of Delegates considered a proposal to urge state legislatures to adopt an affirmative-consent standard in their criminal codes. The idea drew the support of 165 ABA delegates, but they were outnumbered by 265 more-sensible colleagues, who voted to table the measure indefinitely. But the idea remains in the air. [bold added]
A consequence of such a "standard" that McArdle later names is that it criminalizes just about any sexual encounter. She is absolutely correct to warn against "a legal system that makes everyone into either a victim or a criminal."

If you thought the left stood, however imperfectly, for freedom in the social realm, think again: Approaches to the law like this -- where one has no way of knowing one's own compliance -- are the stuff from which dictatorships are made.

Two quotes from Ayn Rand are relevant here (and happen to appear consecutively in The Ayn Rand Lexicon (Go there for references.):
It is a grave error to suppose that a dictatorship rules a nation by means of strict, rigid laws which are obeyed and enforced with rigorous, military precision. Such a rule would be evil, but almost bearable; men could endure the harshest edicts, provided these edicts were known, specific and stable; it is not the known that breaks men's spirits, but the unpredictable. A dictatorship has to be capricious; it has to rule by means of the unexpected, the incomprehensible, the wantonly irrational; it has to deal not in death, but in sudden death; a state of chronic uncertainty is what men are psychologically unable to bear. [bold added]
In other words, affirmative consent is worse than even the most benighted bedroom legislation I have ever heard of. And:
The legal hallmark of a dictatorship [is] preventive law -- the concept that a man is guilty until he is proved innocent by the permissive rubber stamp of a commissar or a Gauleiter. [bold added]
Affirmative consent alone would not, of course, spell our doom. But passage of such would set a very bad precedent, and getting the public used to such laws would further erode our semi-individualist culture, to say the least.

-- CAV


Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, August 16, 2019

Four Funny Things

Some of these come from rabbit holes. You have been warned...

1. Click the "view" button here for an amusing synopsis of The Wizard of Oz.

2. If you find humor in stories about people being flummoxed by/around/concerning computers, the retro-looking Computer Stupidities site has you covered.

Image by Lara Far, via Unsplash, license.
I recently had a problem setting the video resolution on a new laptop.

Me: "It seems that the resolution is supposed to be 1900x1200. It's set to that, but it's not displaying right."

Tech Support: "Yes, that is 1900x1200."

Me: "No, I have my old computer up here, and it's also set to that resolution, and the icons are much smaller."

Tech Support: "Well, so what? Don't you want a bigger resolution?"

Me: "Um, no, a bigger resolution means that the icons get smaller. I think I should reinstall the drivers."

Tech Support: "No. How long have you been experiencing this problem?"

Me: "Since the computer started, remember?"

Tech Support: "Just on this startup?"

Me: "Yes, this is the only startup."

Tech Support: "OK, what did you change on the computer since the last startup?"

Me: "What? Nothing. Listen, this is a new comp--"

Tech Support: "No, I mean, what have you done with your computer recently?"

Me: "I took it out of the box."

Tech Support: "Why was your computer in a box?"
The above conversation came from the "stupid tech support" section.

3. Professor Andreas Zeller offers academics a list of twelve LaTeX packages that will get your paper accepted:
The pagefit package. This immensely useful package makes your paper exactly fit within a given page limit, applying a genetic search algorithm to reduce baseline distances, white space, font sizes, or bibliographic references until it exactly fits. Just write \usepackage[pages=12,includingbibliography]{pagefit} and enjoy.
I do not miss journal submission guidelines.

4. Some time back, Alison Green of Ask a Manager asked her readers to post stories of unprofessional behavior they did not regret. I suspect that the below may have been one of the funniest of the hundreds of responses she received:
I quit a job on my first day. Very similar situation- boss got angry because I didn't know things and I apparently wasn't "grateful enough" for being hired. Boss decided to go to lunch and leave me to run the reception/pick-up/drop-off area (this was daycare/preschool). Parent came in angry about something and proceeded to yell at me for 10 minutes about it. When they finally paused for air, I told them it was my first day, I didn't know how to fix their problem and they should probably find another daycare. When boss came back from lunch 2 hours later, I told her this wasn't working for me. She demanded her logo shirt back so I took it off and walked to my car in my bra. I don't regret it.
I hope for the kids' sake that that boss is out of that business.

-- CAV


Commitment Requires Good Boundaries

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Miss Manners offers her take on a woman complaining about her boyfriend's insistence on her delivering his lunch to work every day -- and his childish behavior regarding her reasonable pushback:

Image by Drew Beamer, via Unsplash, license.
GENTLE READER: As living together is often touted as a tryout period prior to a more permanent arrangement, it might be productive to examine the lessons learned about your boyfriend's behavior, as Miss Manners assures you that your own was proper.
I couldn't agree more, and offer my own positive experience with a similar situation waaaay back from before Mrs. Van Horn and I tied the knot.

The first time she had me rush something to her at the airport, I figured it was a one-off, and complied in time for her to take off. (This was before our government instituted security theater at airports in response to the atrocities of September 11, 2001.)

But then it happened a second and a third time, and on the third time, I decided the established pattern was something that had to change. I told her I had other things to do, and that she needed to think of the purpose of her trip when packing. (I had noticed it was always something peculiar to the trip.)

She thanked me for noticing the problem. It never happened again. In fact, much later, she once even spontaneously mentioned how helpful it was that I gave her such clear, succinct, and actionable advice.

-- CAV


Blowback on NPV in Colorado

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

From time to time, I have commented on efforts (primarily "National Popular Vote") to do away with the Electoral College. NPV, which seems to appeal primarily to Democrats, has gained ground over the years. Currently, DC and a collection of states with a total of 196 electoral votes have signed on. It would go into effect once the total reached at least 270.

Finally, voters are fighting back, as reported by FiveThirtyEight:

We are dangerously close to destroying part of our system of checks and balances. Green states are not part of NPV. Black states are. Red states are considering the idea. (Blank map Clker-Free-Vector-Images, via Pixabay, license.)
According to the Colorado secretary of state's office, the 227,198 signatures are likely the most ever submitted for a statewide ballot initiative in Colorado -- certainly the most since at least 2001. Now, it's typical for about 20 percent of signatures to be thrown out during the verification process. But because the referendum needs only 124,632 valid signatures to qualify, up to 45 percent of them could be tossed and the measure would still make the ballot. (The secretary of state's office will announce whether it has done so by Aug. 30.) [links omitted]
The piece predicts at least an initially close referendum vote, but hedges for reasons not clear to me: "I would still expect support for the law to decrease as opponents prosecute the case against the National Popular Vote, so even a lead of, say, 10 points (akin to the national breakdown) would not be secure." Regardless, I hope Colorado withdraws from this foolish step away from the federal republic our Founders so carefully designed.

Unfortunately, states with enough electoral votes to make the point moot are considering the compact.

-- CAV


Navy to Yank Touchscreens

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

An investigation into the collision between an American warship and an oil tanker in 2017 has caused the Navy to (finally) realize that touchscreen controls are not necessarily a great idea:

Image by Photographer's Mate 3rd Class Todd Frantom, via Wikipedia, public domain.
The NTSB report calls out the configuration of the bridge's systems, pointing out that the decision to transfer controls while in the strait helped lead to the accident, and that the procedures for transferring the controls from one station to another were complicated, further contributing to the confusion. Specifically, the board points to the touchscreens on the bridge, noting that mechanical throttles are generally preferred because "they provide both immediate and tactile feedback to the operator." The report notes that had mechanical controls been present, the helmsmen would have likely been alerted that there was an issue early on, and recommends that the Navy better adhere to better design standards.

Following the incident, the Navy conducted fleet-wide surveys, and according to Rear Admiral Bill Galinis, the Program Executive Officer for Ships, personnel indicated that they would prefer mechanical controls. Speaking before a recent Navy symposium, he described the controls as falling under the "'just because you can doesn't mean you should' category," and that ship systems were simply too complicated. He also noted that they're looking into the design of other ships to see if they can bring some system commonalities between different ship classes.
Better late than never. I have stated before that Touchscreens Everywhere has always seemed faddish to me. I am glad that others are realizing the same.

New technology, however dazzling, is not always an improvement over old. Sometimes, you just need a knob or a lever. As we see here, those primitive-seeming objects have the underappreciated ability -- missing in a touchscreen -- to provide feedback to the user through more than one sensory modality, and probably more intuitively on top of that.

As the rest of the article indicates, touchscreens weren't the only factor causing the incident, but I have absolutely no trouble with the idea that they made a significant contribution.

-- CAV


What Happened at to Boeing?

Monday, August 12, 2019

After the worldwide grounding of the Boeing 737 Max, people have naturally wondered, What went wrong? Predictably, in this time of central planning, the most common answer has been some version of The government didn't have enough control. One moment's thought about the history of aviation -- It may beggar belief, but the Wright Brothers were not government bureaucrats. -- should cast suspicion on that idea.

Image by Acefitt, via Wikipedia, license.
So let's assume the best-case scenario for the idea that the crashes were a symptom of a lapse of oversight of the airline industry -- that the government was supposed to perform the kind of (non-government) oversight that, say, a watchdog group or professional association might perform in a fully capitalist system.

Given that Boeing is (or should be) in the business to make a profit off selling airplanes, it seems incredible that such a serious design flaw could make it all the way into production and use. In other words, yes, having a second set of eyes examine design is a very good idea, but having one's livelihood at stake is even better. And as the Times article notes, safety regulations have grown more stringent over time -- and yet the older aircraft, which had to meet less stringent standards, has an excellent safety record. Granted, horrendous mistakes can and do slip through the cracks from time to time, but shouldn't we, in the name of our own safety, double-check the pat explanation that handing more control to the government will guarantee our future safety? The government has all kinds of control in Venezuela, for example, and that place is a train wreck.

As it turns out, we should, for the government has already exercised more control over Boeing than meets the eye. Although the Times makes no mention of it, the Boeing that produced the 737 Max is very different from the Boeing that produced previous generations of the 737. It is, in fact, the product of a government-pressured merger, as Matt Stoller argues in "The Coming Boeing Bailout?" at his blog, Big. One consequence of this merger with McDonnell Douglas was that the new firm was no longer run by aviation engineers as Boeing had been, but by non-engineers who were also used to ... non-capitalistic ways of doing "business":
The key corporate protection that had protected Boeing engineering culture was a wall inside the company between the civilian division and military divisions. This wall was designed to prevent the military procurement process from corrupting civilian aviation. As aerospace engineers Pierre Sprey and Chuck Spinney noted, military procurement and engineering created a corrupt design process, with unnecessary complexity, poor safety standards, "wishful thinking projections" on performance, and so forth. Military contractors subcontract based on political concerns, not engineering ones. If contractors need to influence a Senator from Montana, they will place production of a component in Montana, even if no one in the state can do the work.
There is much more of merit, despite (for example) an apparent leftish bias by Stoller against "white collar" management as such. Given the government's role in corrupting a once-great company by turning it into a monopoly, it clearly deserves at least as much of the blame as a lack of second-checking for this situation.

The title of Stoller's post is telling. This situation could well spell doom for Boeing, and perhaps it should. Pumping cash into this de facto government entity will, in that case, maintain a barrier to entry that Ayn Rand warned about regarding government-created monopolies, while presenting the same moral hazard that bailouts of other sorts always present. In other words, perhaps the best tribute to the old Boeing would be to let the new one die, to be replaced by worthy successor or successors.

-- CAV


Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, August 09, 2019

Four Things

1. I agree with Alex Epstein that the Green New Deal is an Existential Threat, and am glad to see that his five minute case against same (below) has had a successful launch.


Epstein notes, "My recent Prager University video on the Green New Deal has reached 2.3 million views, including over 1.3 million on YouTube alone.

It deserves millions more, regardless of whether Ocasio-Cortez was "just joking" about it "really" being "about climate."

2. My favorite soccer team, Arsenal, are rebuilding the year after changing managers. And they seem to have just wrapped up a very good transfer window:
The loan deal for Ceballos gives us something different and he might decide he wants to stay. [Head of Football] Raul [Sanllehi] might want him to too. Pepe gives us the pace and width we've cried out for. Saka and Nelson too. Martinelli brings Brazilian flair up front and his fellow countryman brings ruggedness, sneakiness and a lot of chat to our defending either in midfield or defence itself. He's the kind of player I despised at Chelsea but will now love in a red and white shirt. Tierney, a young left back who'll be desperate to prove his fitness and that the step from the SPL to the PL is not too big for him. Lastly, Saliba. A young and expensive centre back, who in just a few years might well look like a £25 million bargain
I'm pretty happy, too, although I am no fan of David Luiz and hope he doesn't give us flashbacks of his poor 2014 World Cup performance against Germany.

Elsewhere in the linked post, Rico argues inter alia, "A two year contract is ideal as Saliba and Medley will grow both in age and experience during that time." I can see this as a decent stopgap, but the player looks like a gamble to me.

3. Every single Democrat running for president (so far) scares the living daylights out of me as either (a) an outright supporter of the Green New Deal or (b) a pushover in the face of the inevitable clamoring for same should the Democrats win the Presidency and Congress in 2020. It's so bad I'm considering a vote for Donald Trump, whom I despise and whose ideas on trade are so wrong I am concerned about him bringing on a depression if he wins and continues meddling in trade.

That said, the race does offer some entertainment value:
The news is particularly bad for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who has participated in more than 50 campaign events across the Granite State but garnered just 3 supporters in the Suffolk poll. Not three percent. Three people. [link and italics in original]
Gillibrand owns an advantage over the seven who didn't register at all despite the fact that, "voters in New Hampshire often run into presidential candidates or political surrogates while out doing their weekend shopping."

4. And now, for some news I hope you never need to use:
Slam on the brakes until the moment just before impact, then release them. This lifts the nose of the car just enough so that you may deflect the animal away from the vehicle, and prevent it from flying directly at you.
This comes from the third of three tips in "How to Properly Slam Into Wildlife With Your Car -- to Save Your Life." The first was, "don't speed," which bears mention since, "traffic engineers set the speed limit low not because of the road design, but because this is an area where deer keep diving through windshields." That makes sense, given the ridiculous number of deer (and apparently pointlessly curvy roads) in my old suburban neighborhood west of Baltimore. The speed limits often seemed overly low, but I was following them mainly because the state had speeding cameras everywhere and mailed me a ticket early on. One cheer for that, I guess.

I would have appreciated some mention of the deer with the fine, though.

-- CAV